The Australian press Council has decided to take "no further action" against The Australian, after they published a controversial cartoon portraying an Indigenous man with a beer can, not remembering his son's name, despite receiving over 700 complaints about the illustration.
By
Laura Morelli

Source:
NITV News
4 Aug 2016 - 11:44 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2016 - 6:38 PM

Published on 4 August, Bill Leak's cartoon was in response to revelations about the treatment of children in the Don Dale correctional centre.

The image sparked controversy and outrage from several prominent Indigenous figures labelling it as racist and an 'attack on vulnerable people in our society.'

Soon after, the image generated a positive reaction, seeing a trend in #IndigenousDads which encouraged Indigenous fathers and families to utilise social media platforms to share photos and memories of their positive family life to promote Indigenous fathers and prove Bill Leak's cartoon was incorrect.

In response to more than 700 complaints mainly from individuals but also from leading Indigenous groups and peak associations, the council said that promoting free speech through the publication of two opinion pieces on Indigenous issues in the News Corp daily broadsheet would be a better response.

“The Press Council understands and actively champions the notion that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the essential underpinnings of a liberal democracy, ensuring that citizens are able to hold powerful individuals and interests accountable, and to promote the contest of ideas that best enables sound policy making, good government and a strong and open society.

Brenda Croft is a member of the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra/Bilinara peoples from the Northern Territory of Australia, she has been involved in the contemporary arts and cultural sectors for decades as an artist and says Bill Leak's cartoon isn't art, it's cheap, nasty and uninformed. 

"If that’s the cartoon that has been put up on Aboriginal Children’s day that says everything about the black and white divide in Australia today."

"It’s a shallow superficial easy target. Really that kind of cartoon is just outrageous, all it does is reinforce every stereotype put out there by right wing people."

Croft, a founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative says that this isn't funny, it's an attack.

"That cartoon should be challenged under whatever legislation there is for racial vilification."

"I think people look at this and see Bill Leak being the messenger of conservatives in Australia. It’s just another excuse to not address what has been happening in reality." 

"That cartoon should be challenged under whatever legislation there is for racial vilification. There’s no humour in it. There’s a place for satire but this is blatantly buying into every stereotype of Indigenous individuals," she said.

"For Indigenous people, this is the contemporary version of what’s happened with our children."

Croft discussed the recent issues surrounding Aboriginal children in detention centres and she says this cartoon is the contemporary version of kids being institutionalised.

"For Indigenous people, this is the contemporary version of what’s happened with our children. My father was incarcerated at a compound in the early 20's and nothings changed... It’s not looking at why children have been removed, why families have been fractured – I’ve got generations of family who have been removed for the last 60 years… you don’t have parenting skills because you don’t have any parents!"

"These are human right abuses...plain and simple. This is the civil war in Australia."

Croft replied to comments made from The Australian editor-in-chief Paul Whittaker, which defended the cartoon.

"He should take his own advice, delve deeper into why kids end up in those places… let’s all think about this for a second… An adult jail closed because it was unacceptable to hold adults in it, so why would it be acceptable to hold youths?"

As an Aboriginal community member, Croft feels that this is an ongoing war.

"These are human right abuses...plain and simple. This is the civil war in Australia. Everybody has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but you can’t give up because these are our kids."

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Croft has an exhibition at Stills Gallery in the suburb of Paddington in Sydney that will be featuring until the 27th August. Her work focuses on the removal of Aboriginal children and says nothing has changed in the last 50 years. 

"My artwork is brutal, it deals with identity, representation, classification. It's real and raw."

"If that’s the cartoon that has been put up on Aboriginal Children’s day that says everything about the black and white divide in Australia today," she said. 

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has also slammed the cartoon, labeling it as tasteless and appalling.

Senator Scullion said he was heartened that voices from across the political and social spectrum had come out and strongly condemned the cartoon.

"Although Australian cartoonists have a rich tradition of irreverent satire, there is absolutely no place for depicting racist stereotypes." 

"Although Australian cartoonists have a rich tradition of irreverent satire, there is absolutely no place for depicting racist stereotypes," the minister said.

Mr Scullion has called on The Australian to be more aware of the impact cartoons such as the one published and the impact on Indigenous communities.

The Australian defends "racist" cartoon: 

Despite angry backlash sparked from Bill Leaks cartoon, The Australian has Defended their choice to run the image, which criticises Indigenous family values, life choices and behavioral issues. 

After accusations of inflaming already heightened racial tensions, The Australian editor-in-chief Paul Whittaker doesn't say the cartoon is racist, but instead, insinuates that people often focus on the tough issues, suggesting Aboriginal adults need to have more responsibility for social problems. 

"Too often, too many people skirt around the root causes and tough issues," he said. "But not everyone," he said.

"Confronting and insightful cartoons force people to examine the core issues in a way that sometimes reporting and analysis can fail to do."

He continues "Bill Leak’s confronting and insightful cartoons force people to examine the core issues in a way that sometimes reporting and analysis can fail to do."

Public reactions:

Indigenous and non-Indigenous commentators, leaders and the public have condemned the cartoon on Twitter and the national newspaper's decision to publish it. The publication of the cartoon coincides with National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day.

In apparent response to the controversy, The Australian referred to the image as "certainly a talking point today".

Acclaimed Indigenous director and producer of ABC series Cleverman Ryan Griffen, was among the first to label the image as "racist".

In a Tweet he wrote, “You surprised with the racist Cartoon in the Australian? Nah its just another Thursday. This sh*t happens all the time people”.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale also responded on social media, writing, "Unacceptable to see a national newspaper... publish a racist cartoon and spread intolerance & discrimination".

Ugly, insulting and embarrassing: NSWALC

NSW Aboriginal Land Council Chair Roy Ah-See said Bill Leak’s cartoon, based on the Royal Commission into the shocking mistreatment of children in the Northern Territory juvenile justice system, both insulted and denigrated Aboriginal people.

"The hurt and humiliation that victims of racism experience is real and has a terrible toll on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people." 

“Sadly, racism and discrimination is a fact of life for Aboriginal people who have lived on and cared for this country for more than 60,000 years, the hurt and humiliation that victims of racism experience is real and has a terrible toll on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people." 

“The Land Rights network in New South Wales works hard to ensure Aboriginal people are proud of their identity and culture," he said.

Ah-See says Bill Leak’s cartoon is ugly, insulting and embarrassing for Australia’s national newspaper to publish it.

“It is time the decision-makers at The Australian accept personal responsibility for the hurt they have caused Aboriginal people today.”

Previous Cartoon Controversy:

Bill Leak, who published the cartoon in his regular ‘Bleak Life’ section, has previously been labelled "racist" for portraying Indigenous Australians and other minorities in a way that embraces cultural stereotypes.

In 2015, a cartoon depicting Indian people contemplating eating solar panels was condemned as racist towards Indians.

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